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Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, even if you  know you aren’t going to succeed–or at least, not right away. Not this year.

Jeff Harris (Democratic representative from Columbia, running for the Attorney General nomination) takes umbrage that Tyson, Smithfield and MOArk are turning the Missouri countryside into their personal fiefdoms. He resents the damage done by CAFOs (contained animal feeding operations) in our state so much that he’s filing two bills this session to restrain CAFOs and big ag.

The first bill is a repeat performance, forbidding the construction of a CAFO within five miles of a state park or a national historic landmark (such as the village of Arrow Rock, which is about to be drenched in the stench of a hog CAFO). Better luck with it this year than last, Jeff.

The second bill, more important as far as reining in these nosesores and water table polluters, would grant local governments control over whether they could be built. Right now, the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) grants a license to any prospective CAFO owner who so much as winks in its direction.  

So Harris is introducing a bill that would allow local governments to make the licensing of nearby CAFOs a ballot issue. Only if a local ballot initiative failed to stop a new CAFO would the DNR have a say in whether to license one. Harris says:

“This legislation will give the people forced to live with the smell, pollution and waste caused by a nearby CAFO a powerful voice in the licensing process.”

Rural landowners have been organizing and fighting the proliferation of CAFOs, but the powerful Farm Bureau tells the Republican leadership to ignore them and to wrest the last vestige of local control away if possible. Last year, Senator Chris Koster (then a Republican) introduced legislation that would have negated the only local control that now exists, which is the power of county health boards to regulate CAFOs for health reasons.

Organizers put so much pressure on their Republican senators that, knowing the bill would be defeated, the Republican leadership decided not to bring it up for a vote. But just because irate rural citizens stopped the Koster bill, that doesn’t mean they can get their Republican legislators to pass Jeff Harris’s bill.

There’s a big difference between bending to grass roots pressure to prevent corporations from taking even more power and outright telling the Farm Bureau and Premium Standard Farms to take a flying leap. Republicans are caught between big time funding and some constituent pressure here. Believe it: they’re not going to cut off that funding unless their very chances of remaining in office are threatened by their support of CAFOs.

Nevertheless, even with the chances being what they are–slim to none–Jeff is introducing his bill to grant local control on this issue. He knows it won’t succeed this year, but that’s no reason not to start the ball rolling. Hey, if the Dems, in November, get those eleven seats they’ll need for control of the House and if they pick up maybe three Senate seats so that the margin is narrower in that chamber, who knows where a bill like this could go next year? If it passed in the House, every rural Republican senator who voted against it would face a storm of controversy.

Sounds good to me.

Photo of hog CAFO courtesy of Gone Mild